According to Theaters of War, the US Department of Defense does not just subtly influence Hollywood’s depiction of US wars to present them in a more favourable light. The Pentagon actively demands script oversight and dictates storylines. In practice, it has been waging a full-spectrum propaganda war against western audiences to soften them up to support aggressive, global US militarism.
The documentary, based on data uncovered by recent Freedom of Information requests from UK investigative journalist Tom Secker and academic Matthew Alford, reveals the astonishing fact that the Pentagon has been the secret, guiding hand behind thousands of films and TV shows in recent decades.
Many more movies never reach the screen because the Defense Department’s entertainment liaison office refuses to cooperate, believing the wrong messages are being promoted.
Pentagon objections – usually the kiss of death – relate to any suggestion of military incompetence or war crimes, loss of control over nuclear weapons, influence by oil companies, illegal arms sales or drug trafficking, use of chemical or biological weapons, US promotion of coups overseas, or involvement in assassinations or torture. In fact, precisely the things the US military is known to have been doing.
How does the Defense Department exert so much control on film productions?
Because expensive blockbusters are far more likely to recoup their budget and turn a profit if they feature the shiniest new weapons. Only the Pentagon can supply aircraft carriers, helicopters, fighter jets, pilots, submarines, armoured personnel carriers, military extras and advisers. But it does so only if it is happy with the dramatic messaging.
As one academic observes in Theaters of War, propaganda works most effectively when it can be passed off as entertainment: “You’re more open to incorporation of those ideas because your defences are down.”
How many viewers would take seriously a film if it was preceded by a sponsorship logo from the Defense Department or the CIA? And for that reason, Pentagon contracts usually specify that its role in a film be veiled.
This is why few know that the Defense Department and the CIA have had a controlling hand in such varied projects as Apollo 13, the Jurassic Park and James Bond franchises, the Marvel movies, Godzilla, Transformers, Meet the Parents andI Am Legend. Or how the military regularly gets involved in baking and quiz shows.
The reality, Theaters of War argues, is that many Hollywood movies are little more than advertisements for US war industries.